You are correct in stating that the shadow of the stick delineates a
N-S meridian when it is shortest. But you don’t have to guess which
is North. In the Northern hemisphere, the end of the shadow NOT
attached to the stick points North. If you are on the Equator, the
shadow proceeds in a West to East direction ONLY.
And you don’t have to wait until the sun is casting the shortest
shadow, either, to determine direction. Just mark the end of the
cast shadow, wait a few minutes and mark the new end. A line
connecting the FIRST mark with the SECOND runs roughly West to East
(depending on time of year) and a line perpendicular to that runs
On a clear night, just locate Polaris (the North star). A line drawn
from it straight down to the horizon indicates true North. If you
don’t know where Polaris is, find the Big Dipper. Look at the two
stars that form the non-handle end of the Dipper’s bowl. Extend a
line from the bottom star through the top star. The first star you
come to (about five “bowl depths” away) is Polaris.
All good recon folks have a compass, but should also carry a sewing
kit. If you lose your compass, take the steel needle and repeatedly
stroke it one direction with another piece of steel (like your
trusty K-Bar knife or the barrel of your M-16). This will magnetize
the needle. Then place the needle on a piece of dry leaf or weed,
and place those objects in a pool of still water…the needle will
swing to a N-S direction…and the brightest part of the sky is
South…and moss can grow on any side of the tree.
Native Aleuts and others who live in the far North navigate hundreds
of miles by sled even in blizzards or when there is no sun, or at
night, by orienting themselves properly to the prevailing winds. The
winds create wave riffles in the snow called sastrugae, and the
native peoples, knowing the direction of the prevailing winds at
different times of the year, navigate very accurately using the
Also, if you are in the open and it is Spring or Summer, look very
closely for flowering plants or grasses, some of which can be tiny.
Around mid-day, the flowers and broadest leaves on flexible plants
will tend to face in a Southerly direction.
All of which has nothing to do with jewelry and is of no help
locating a rest room in a strange city.
Wayne Emery, CPT USA
Recon Team Arizona
Special Operations Group
9th SFG USARV 1968-71